State official: Iowa veterans compare nursing home’s COVID-19 unit to a ‘five-star hotel’

By: - December 22, 2020 2:50 pm

Former Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Timon Oujiri was relieved of his duties earlier this year. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS press conference on Dec. 22, 2020)

Only 21 residents of the Iowa Veterans Home have contracted the coronavirus this year, the home’s commandant said Monday, adding that some of the residents have likened the facility’s COVID-19 unit to a five-star hotel.

Five of the infected veterans at the Marshalltown nursing home have died, Commandant Timon Oujiri said.

Speaking at a press conference Monday alongside Gov. Kim Reynolds, Oujiri credited the employees of the state-run home with helping to contain the spread of the virus.

“To date, we have run over 15,000 COVID tests,” Oujiri said. “To date, we’ve had 21 of our 500 residents contract the virus. Our COVID unit was staffed voluntarily and we are proud to say it is empty today. Some of our residents called it a 5-star hotel.”

Oujiri said the home’s employees have worked tirelessly to meet the needs of residents “even when 120 of their peers were off work due to exposures outside of our doors.”

The statistics indicate that the total number of infected workers in the home is almost six times higher than the total number of residents who have been infected.

State records indicate that throughout the pandemic, the Iowa Veterans Home has typically housed just under 400 residents at any given time. The home employs roughly 865 workers, according to its most recent annual report.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported in August that the facility had at that time sustained two separate outbreaks of the deadly virus.

One of the outbreaks was active at that time and involved seven residents and staff. The other, which dated back to May, had been brought under control, and had resulted in at least 42 infections, the department reported.

One month later, IDPH reported the second of the two outbreaks had been brought under control and the cumulative total number of infected staff and residents was, at that time, 67.

On Dec. 9, the Iowa Capital Dispatch asked IDPH for an updated list of all COVID-19 outbreaks in the Iowa Veterans Home and other licensed nursing facilities throughout the state. The department has yet to provide that list.

At Monday’s press conference, Oujiri thanked Reynolds for helping control the spread of the virus in the home through the distribution of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

“The great support that you have provided to all of the long-term care facilities throughout Iowa, and specifically the veterans of Iowa, has been unprecedented,” Oujiri told Reynolds. “You have ensured that we have had sufficient PPE to protect the residents as well as the staff by establishing a supply chain where we received PPE transported to our door by the National Guard and testing supplies delivered by the Iowa State Highway Patrol.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.